Slow Forever marks a return from a seven-year layoff following the release of what was lauded as one of the best underground releases in the last decade. Slow Forever is not Gin however. Slow Forever is also not black metal. Convince yourselves of this now. Much can happen in seven years and much did happen for Cobalt. The duo of Erik Wunder and Phil McSorley dissolved in the years following Gin. A public battle waged by McSorley on the band's socials led to his dismissal at the turn of 2015 and to Wunder being the sole member of Cobalt. That following summer, Wunder recruited vocalist Charlie Fell, of Lord Mantis/Nachtmystium/Abigail Williams fame, and began work on what would become Cobalt's fourth full-length album and a magnificent return to form.
Cobalt's newest effort is its own brutal beast, a double-album animal. Slow Forever sheds the black metal moniker in favor of a more encompassing style of metal that draws inspiration from everything from different extreme metal genera to Americana, psychedelic/progressive rock, and punk. Wunder handles all instrumentation for Slow Forever while Fell focuses on all of the vocal arrangements. It is a new start for Cobalt. While Wunder has not completely jettisoned what made his his prior releases great (common themes like gin and Ernest Hemingway resurface in the lyrics of some of the songs), there is a new and menacingly carnal tone about Slow Forever. It is vicious and does not relent. Some of this is due in part to the production team involved with the album. Wunder teamed up with producer Dave Otero once more. The two of them had worked together for their 2007 album, Eater of Birds. Otero has also recently had a hand in great albums like Cattle Decapitation's The Anthropocene Extinction and Khemmis's Absolution. Having a familiar face behind the computers and panels combined with Wunder's genius vision and musicianship keeps a singular Cobalt sound while allowing the duo of Wunder and Fell to explore new territory.
Disc one opens on "Hunt the Buffalo", which begins like an opening song for a hypothetical Western-Noir fusion film. Fell's abrasive dust storm of a voice wails sadistic screams and lyrics, immediately breathing a rejuvenated vigor into Cobalt's primal music. The deprecating and dismal words of "Hunt the Buffalo", "30 years shit luck / Hydromorphine / Kerosene / Anal sex / Amphetamines / Car crash / Anti-depressants / Incest / Depravity / We accept / Bed smells like burnt foil / Broken hope in a burning dream" showcase the nihilistic nature that Slow Forever possesses. This "Western-Americana from Hell" carries over into the instrumental "Animal Law", the grossly intense "Ruiner", and remains a permanent theme throughout. Its grooves are infectious, the vocals are caustic and corrosive. All of this is most apparent on songs "Beast Whip", which takes a Tool-esque riff on a two-minute ride before brutally bludgeoning it into a fine paste, and "Cold Breaker", a six-minute bloody sunset for the first disc of Slow Forever.
The back half of the album starts out just as illustriously as the front half. "Elephant Graveyard", one of Slow Forever's best songs, is visceral and vitriolic. Fell screams lyrics, "I still see you without eyes / I still hear you without eyes / I still feel you without eyes / I still hear you without eyes" and "Cold whore's hair / Motherfucking nightmare" as Wunder churns out hardcore/punk rhythms. This (rocks and) rolls into the following tracks: the gigantic, eleven-minute "Final Will", and the instrumental "Iconoclast". The latter features an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway's Nobel Prize speech. Slow Forever closes on its title track which, is as the song and album title suggests: a slow, burning homage to a brilliant album. The physical copies of the album contain a hidden track, entitled "Siege", that sounds like it could have been ripped from the Neurosis drawing board. It is yet another stellar offering on an album already loaded with monumental and heavy tracks.
Declarations of albums being masterpieces happen far too often these days. Hyperbole becomes a trap (one I have been guilty of in the past), and it dilutes opinion towards music because it obfuscates comparisons. With that said, there will come instances where these claims can be substantiated. Slow Forever is a commanding and magisterial composition. It stands as a frame of reference for great metal much like its predecessor and transcends the hitches and missteps that Cobalt has dealt with in the space between albums. While eighty-four minutes may be a tough listen for some, it is a massively rewarding experience to digest and rife with some of Cobalt's greatest individual moments. It is a must-listen that demands one's attention.